We use microwave observations from the South Pole Telescope (SPT) to examine the Sunyaev–Zel'dovich effect (SZE) signatures of a sample of 46 X-ray selected groups and clusters drawn from ~6 deg 2 of the XMM–Newton Blanco Cosmology Survey. These systems extend to redshift z = 1.02 and probe the SZE signal to the lowest X-ray luminosities (≥10 42 erg s –1 ) yet; these sample characteristics make this analysis complementary to previous studies. We develop an analysis tool, using X-ray luminosity as a mass proxy, to extract selection-bias-corrected constraints on the SZE significance and Y 500 mass relations. The former is in good agreement with an extrapolation of the relation obtained from high-mass clusters. However, the latter, at low masses, while in good agreement with the extrapolation from the high-mass SPT clusters, is in tension at 2.8 with the Planck constraints, indicating the low-mass systems exhibit lower SZE signatures in the SPT data. We also present an analysis of potential sources of contamination. For the radio galaxy point source population, we find 18 of our systems have 843 MHz Sydney University Molonglo Sky Survey sources within 2 arcmin of the X-ray centre, and three of these are also detected at significance 〉4 by SPT. Of these three, two are associated with the group brightest cluster galaxies, and the third is likely an unassociated quasar candidate. We examine the impact of these point sources on our SZE scaling relation analyses and find no evidence of biases. We also examine the impact of dusty galaxies using constraints from the 220 GHz data. The stacked sample provides 2.8 significant evidence of dusty galaxy flux, which would correspond to an average underestimate of the SPT Y 500 signal that is (17 ± 9) per cent in this sample of low-mass systems. Finally, we explore the impact of future data from SPTpol and XMM-XXL, showing that it will lead to a factor of 4 to 5 tighter constraints on these SZE mass–observable relations.